Jay Blogs – The Power of Pentecost

Pentecost is a church holiday that occurs 50 days after Easter, on May 19th this year. As you probably know, it commemorates the birth of the Church and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, who baptizes the disciples. The other day, I was reflecting on this most critical juncture in human history and the impact it has on us in this cultural moment.

In order to fully understand Pentecost, we have to go to Genesis 11, to the Tower of Babel. Humans had become very powerful at this point, great in achievement and knowledge. God tells us that, if left to their own devices, there would be very few limits to what they could achieve. This would actually be a disastrous thing for a people who were created dependent upon the Lord to believe they no longer needed him. Any time any being in God’s creation, demon or human alike, believes themselves to be like the Most High, it generally does not turn out well.

Their pride and ambition had blinded them to the fact that they were walking down the road to physical and spiritual carnage. It wouldn’t have been unjust for the Lord to have simply destroyed them all here, wiping Babel clean like Sodom or Gomorrah. Instead, in his mercy, the Lord confused their speech. Because no one could understand anything else anyone was saying, they became disunified and unable to complete their work. Chaos ensued, and eventually they split off into tribes, organized around what languages they did understand, and scattered. As a result, they could not join in rebellion against God.

Flash forward to Acts 2. Jesus had left the disciples. They were joined in prayer, awaiting the Helper Jesus promised to leave, but having no idea how this might appear. You know the story: the sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire settling on each of them, then all of them began speaking in various languages. Instead of various tongues causing disunity and scattering, however, people began joining together around this multilingual gospel. As Jews from every nation and tongue gathered in Jerusalem to see what was happening and heard the Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus speaking in their languages, they were drawn to the apostles. They heard the Word in their language and came to know the gospel, thereby reversing the curse of Babel.

What was disintegrated by the pride and rebellion of humans was reunited by the power of the Holy Spirit at the birth of the Church. In our day, this reunion can and should happen again.

Our culture is plagued by tribalism, fueled by social media, and disjointed. Like Babel, we are segregated into groups that are joined around the same language, reinforced for us by algorithm-fueled media platforms. We attack other tribes, believing that the best remedy is not spirited debate with them leading to a new synthesis but the other groups’ non-existence or annihilation.

The tribes we “live” in aren’t real communities, either. They are not unified around true values or love for one another. They are much more about hatred of “the other,” of those who look, act, or think differently than we do. If anyone within the tribe dares to speak in a way that represents a challenge to the tribe’s monolithic thinking, much less daring to suggest dialogue or compromise with other tribes, there is immediate shunning, cancellation, and other negative social consequences.

The result, as author and sociologist Jonathan Haidt notes, is that we become stupider. In the past, one posited an idea. The other person offered a counterpoint or position with which the first person disagreed. They debated over the issues, albeit somewhat respectfully, challenging each other’s thinking. As this process continued, each party to the dialogue had the opportunity to grow, change, and modify their thinking, making their ideas better and making them smarter.

Haidt notes that, in a cancel culture, where there are immediate social ramifications for dissent or counterargument, people simply keep quiet, either afraid of the consequences of dissent or simply wanting to avoid the hassle of raising a stink. Therefore, debate doesn’t happen, tribes remain entrenched in unchallenged thought, and we become culturally and intellectually stagnant-stupider.

What’s worse, because we are created for true community, this stifling of our abilities to express all that we have been created by God to offer means that the image of God within us does not have the opportunity to flourish, whether individually or collectively. We become stumped in our growth, the result of being planted in poisonous soil. This is the painful reality of living in modern-day Babel.

The solution, of course, is the same as it was 2,000 years ago: for Pentecost to free and unify us through the Holy Spirit under the gospel of Jesus Christ. As such, the people of Jesus are people of every tongue, with the power to speak God’s unifying truth to every nation in the world.

The gospel brings courage. It tells me that my hope, my love, my security, and my future are all tied up in the God of the universe—my Abba, who loves me. People can cancel or shun me, and they absolutely will. Jesus promised they would, and when I start going on defense and trying to avoid speaking the truth because I’m afraid of criticism and adverse social consequences, I almost always make bad decisions that hurt others and cause me to act in ways that are actually antithetical to the gospel. These illegitimate means include condemning others, advocating for their marginalization, their disempowerment, or anything else that undermines the image of God in them.

The reality is that if you’re a true disciple of Jesus, doing what he did, saying what he said, and living like he lived, the world has already canceled you. This reality provides incredible freedom to speak truth into power—to call things that aren’t good or truthful what they are—and to challenge bad or unbiblical thinking, even among one’s own people. And to do so in the context of love, always seeking restoration and reconciliation.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit and being a part of God’s Church means we always have a true family—our brothers and sisters—with whom we’ll spend eternity. We’re never alone when we press into our real people. Instead of living in tribes or in counterfeit communities, we live in the real thing, which empowers us to engage with the world around us. We have the spiritual strength, confidence, and stability to draw others into relationships with Jesus and also to seek out relationships with people who aren’t like us and who don’t think or act like we do. We not only have the chance to be hospitable around our tables and possibly share the love of Jesus with them, but we also increase strong, life-giving dialogue, which makes us all smarter and better able to thrive and become the fullness of all God intended for us.

This kind of fellowship unleashes potentialities, sparks creativity, and births innovation and collaboration, all of which promote the common good. These are all the virtues and values that the Church, fueled by Pentecost, unleashed on Western society and that catalyzed its growth and flourishing for 2,000 years.

The power of Pentecost has always been the unifying force for humanity, then and now. The solution is always for the Church to remember and be who She is.